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Putting the "Academic" in Academic Festival

TC's second annual Academic Festival featured 13 different panels, presentations and performances, offered over the course of three sessions. The following six, described in brief, were also captured on video.

Putting the “Academic” in Academic Festival

TC’s second annual Academic Festival featured 13 different panels, presentations and performances, offered over the course of three sessions. The following six, described in brief, were also captured on video.

Schools from Scratch

Daniel Kikuji Rubenstein had taken his planning team to the beach when they discovered that the 700-page state application for their dream charter school was due in just two days. Rubenstein – who went to co-found Brooklyn Prospect Charter School and who today serves as the school’s executive director – spent a sleepless weekend cranking out the massive document and then drove to Albany to personally hand-deliver 15 copies to state officials.

“No one has ever said, ‘it’s your destiny to start a school,’ so if you can’t do it, that’s okay with them,” Rubenstein told the audience. “It’s their job to set the bar and ours to get past it.”

That, in essence, defines the challenge of what it takes to create or lead an innovative new school in New York City – the focus of “Schools from Scratch,” a panel that brought together six TC alumni who have taken on that formidable challenge in recent years.  Moderated by Richard Colvin, the group also included:

  • Luyen Chou, ’06, co-founder (with Rubenstein) and board chairman of Brooklyn Prospect Charter School, and chief product officer of Schoolnet.Inc.;
  • Ramon Gonzalez, ’97, founding principal, M.S. 223, Laboratory School of Finance and Technology, in the South Bronx, serving grades 6-8;
  • Jose Maldonado, ’98, founding principal, Columbia Second School for Math, Science and Engineering, in Manhattan, serving academically talented students in grades 6-8 (with plans to expand to grade 12 by 2014);
  • Joshua Solomon, a TC doctoral candidate for 2010, and founding principal, The Business of Sports School, a high school in Manhattan;
  • and Robert Vitalo, ’80, Head of School, The Berkeley-Carroll School, one of New York City’s oldest independent schools, serving students in grades pre-k—12 in Brooklyn.

While the group reflected a wide range of experiences, there was general agreement that attracting quality teachers was a key to success.

“I’m an activist, and I was looking for teachers who knew this was going to be a ride,” said Gonzalez, who was asked, during his school’s first year of operation, to share a facility known as the most dangerous in the city’s education system.

To which Solomon added that, ultimately, “it’s about finding teachers excited to be in a small school.”

To watch the full panel discussion, click here

Dewey in the 21st Century

Education during the 20th century was, in large part, shaped by the Deweyan notion that learning occurs best by doing – by direct hands-on experience with the thing being learned about. It is that layer of experience that makes the information found in books relevant to the learner.

So what can the 21st century add? Another layer, provided by technology, that sharpens hands-on experience through graphic simulations that allow the learner to manipulate variables in order to test and challenge his or her assumptions.

“Adding a graphic simulation improves memory over hands-on experience alone improves memory by 10 percent,” John Black, Cleveland E. Dodge Professor of Telecommunications and Education, told his audience at TC’s Academic Festival. Simulations also “improve ability to use information to solve problems and do increasingly difficult kinds of tasks in real world situations,” said Black, whose talk was titled “Dewey in the 21st Century: The Magic of Experience Plus Simulation.”

Black illustrated his point by showing a number of graphic simulation teaching tools. One, titled “How a Roller Coaster Works,” allows the user to drag a virtual roller coaster car  up and down while viewing a bar graph that shows changes in potential energy, kinetic energy and total energy.

“When you’re dragging the roller coaster car up against gravity, you get potential energy build-up,” Black explained.

Such tools, called grounded embodied mental model simulations, can incorporate a range of perceptual features, including visual graphics, animation, auditory features, voice-over, movement manipulation and force feedback. Yet ultimately, the effectiveness of all these bells and whistles is determined by one simple factor, Black said: “Simulations build on what you already know.” 

To see Black’s talk click here.


Beyond School Lunch

Most people have at least a passing familiarity with the USDA’s Food Guide Pyramid, with its layers representing the five major food groups.

 Yet just 2 percent of U.S. children follow the Pyramid’s recommendations – and that has serious implications for their academic performance.

“We need to create health-promoting environments for school meals and school curricula,” said Isobel Contento, TC’s Mary Swartz Rose Professor of Nutrition and Education, during a session at Academic Festival that also included Chuck Basch, Richard March Hoe Professor of Health Education; Toni Liquori, Adjunct Associate Professor of Nutrition Education; and Pam Koch, Project Director of the Center for Food & Environment.

Eating school meals improves not only health but academic performance, Contento said:  For example, in the short term, eating breakfast (which many schools offer for low-income children), increases memory recall and reduces rate of error among all students, and, in the long-term, improves tardiness and attendance rates in under-nourished students.

Basch, who recently completed a large meta-study on health conditions that disproportionately hinder the academic performance of urban minority youth, has reported that urban youth of color consume breakfast at significantly lower rates than their white counterparts.

The good news, Contento said, is that studies show nutrition curricula can make a difference in children’s eating habits. One such program is “Choice, Control, and Change” (C3) a five-unit, 19-lesson module entitled co-developed at TC by a group that included Contento and Koch. C3 is a standards-driven and inquiry-based curriculum framed around the question, “How can we use scientific evidence to help us make healthy food and activity choices?” The curriculum provides teachers and students with rigorous, yet relevant investigations into how an understanding of biology, the environment, and personal behaviors impacts weight and health.

Cooking and garden have also become popular in schools once again as a means of nutrition education and improving healthy habits. Liquori has developed a program called Cook Shop, for elementary school children, grades K–6, which is designed to increase preferences for and consumption of minimally processed whole grains and vegetables through cooking these foods in the classroom along with multiple exposures to the same foods in the cafeteria and parent involvement. And TC is working with a local application of the Edible Schoolyard program developed by Alice Waters, the Berkeley, California-based chef and author who founded Chez Panisse.

“So what we’re really talking about,” concluded Contento, “is trying to transform the entire school.”

Click here to view the “Beyond School Lunch” session.

Big Math for Little Kids  

Herbert Ginsburg likes to start out his talks about children’s mathematical thinking with a lesson in subtraction – specifically, the subtraction of misconceptions.

Misconception #1: Kids’ math has to be written. “School ends up making kids abandon what they already know, and as a result they end up disliking math,” says Ginsburg, Jacob H. Schiff Foundations Professor of Psychology & Education.

Misconception #2: Math has to be school related – “and therefore boring, miserable, scary and hard to do.”

Misconception #3: Proficiency in math is the result of innate ability. Many Asian countries understand that’s wrong, Ginsburg says, producing a uniformly higher level of math achievement by emphasizing the subject and teaching it well.

Misconception #4: Proficiency in math is related to gender, socio-economic status or culture. Some 50 percent of math majors are now women, Ginsburg said, and the problem with lower-income children is they lack good schools, not good skills. And while many Asian countries outperform the United States in math, middle-income U.S. kids do as well as their Asian counterparts.

Ginsburg, who is the author of a mathematics curriculum for pre-school aged children, said that even babies do simple math, distinguishing between concepts of singular and plural, and more and less; and that children as young as three can “subitize,” or judge at a glance the number of objects in a small group. He showed his audience a number of videos of small children that capture moments when they display mastery of these ideas, as well as the limitations of their thinking (a pre-schooler who is uncertain whether the number of objects displayed on a table changes when they are covered over).

“He can count to five, but does he really know what five is?” Ginsburg said, adding that, in counting objects, five isn’t simply the fifth number in a sequence, but a designation for five of those things. “Kids are dealing with abstractions at a very young age,” he said. “They’re not totally concrete. But they still have a lot to learn.

To view Ginsburg’s talk, click here.


Other sessions at Academic Festival included “Executive Coaching for Leadership Effectiveness,” featuring John Black, Cleveland E. Dodge Professor of Telecommunications & Ed. and Chair Department of Human Development Director Institute for Learning Technologies

Dewey stressed the importance of linking learning to experience – but sometimes experience needs to be fine-tuned to ensure understanding of a sophisticated concept. Black will describe how recent research has shown that, by allowing learners to manipulate variables and thus imagine and re-imagine situations, new technologies like graphic computer simulations, video games and robots enable students to test their own assumptions and increase their learning, understanding and motivation.

"Executive Coaching for Leadership Effectiveness". Terry E. Maltbia, Senior Lecturer, Organization & Leadership, with Caryn Block, Associate Professor of Psychology and Education; Debra Noumair, Associate Professor of Psychology and Education; Patricia Raskin, Associate Professor of Psychology and Education;  “TC Alumni: We Mean Business,” chaired by Marla Schaefer ’03, Board of Trustees, former Co-CEO of Claire’s Stores, Inc., with Nabeel Ahmad, Ed.D. ’09, Learning Technologist, IBM; Jay Gaines '70, President and CEO of Jay Gaines & Company; and Diana Lewinstein '67, Designer, DL Interiors; “Helping Adults Learn and Grow,” with Ellie Drago-Severson, Associate Professor of Education and Victoria Marsick, Professor of Education/Co-Director J.M. Huber Institute; and “Cracking the Code: Getting Your Kids Into College, facilitated by Thomas P. Rock, Ed.D. '02, TC Executive Director of Enrollment Services, with Eric Furda ’94, Dean of Admissions, University of Pennsylvania; Diane McKoy '02, Associate Director, Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid, Columbia University; Lawrence Momo '81, Director of College Counseling, Trinity School; Carla Shere, Ed.D., ’93, Program Specialist for College Planning, Learning Leaders; Mitchell Thompson ’96, Dean of Students, Scarsdale High School. 

Published Tuesday, May. 4, 2010


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